WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) on Wednesday joined forces with U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in introducing legislation to protect the First Amendment rights of students at public universities from unconstitutional speech codes and so-called free speech zones.

The Campus Free Speech Restoration Act (S.1511), includes provisions to assure free speech rights at public and private nonreligious institutions, in addition to creating a U.S. Department of Education review process and legal cause of action in federal court.

“It’s baffling that so many Americans accept the fact that colleges and universities, including some of the most elite in the nation, willingly suppress free speech,” Hyde-Smith said.  “Our First Amendment rights are at the foundation of what makes our democracy unique, and I fully support this measure to restore free speech rights on college campuses across the country.”

“Too many of America’s public colleges have attacked the First Amendment rights of their students using so-called free speech zones and unconstitutional speech codes.  This bill fights back against campus censors in order to defend open debate and free speech, which lead us to truth,” said Cotton.

Additional original cosponsors include Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Katie Britt (R-Ala.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) cosponsored the legislation.

S.1511 would:

  • Establish the sense of Congress that students should be free to express and hold their opinions on matters of religion and philosophy on college campuses; that free speech zones and restrictive speech codes are contrary to the First Amendment; and that public colleges should not restrict the First Amendment rights of their students.
  • Prohibit public colleges from restricting free speech and expression on campus, except in limited and viewpoint-neutral circumstances consistent with the First Amendment.
  • Require private colleges and universities that receive federal funding to be transparent about their speech policies and enforce those policies in a consistent and neutral manner.
  • Create a review process within the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education to determine whether campus speech policies infringe on the First Amendment rights of individuals on campus, on penalty of losing federal funding.
  • Create a cause of action in federal court for the Attorney General or other parties to challenge restrictions on speech and expression on campus.
  • Ensure the requirements of the Act do not apply to colleges and universities controlled by religious institutions.